Offsite to Onsite—What Makes a Successful Onsite Completion of a Modular Project?

by Joe Sievers

Once a modular project has been built in the factory and shipped to the site, as much as 90 percent of the construction of each modular unit is already done. For the onsite process to be successful, it’s really all about coordination. Good coordination can ensure the time and cost savings of modular are fully realized.

We coordinate early and often between the architect, general contractor, subtrade contractors, preconstruction services team (in our case, Prefab Logic), and even onsite inspectors. The goal of this extensive coordination is to eliminate guesswork once modules are set onsite and the final phases of building are completed.

A modular project is a highly planned process with a defined sequence of events. There’s plenty to coordinate. Before the project ever hits the factory, there’s precise, detailed planning with all stakeholders—from site prep to factory shop drawings. Before modules leave the factory, there’s a plan to coordinate module transport and staging and precise sequencing of the set process. Once the building is erected, there’s a sequence to how the sprinklers, mains, sheetrock lids, HVAC, plumbing and services, exterior building façade, and many other elements are incorporated.

During each planning activity, Autovol encourages involvement of all stakeholders. We want every question asked. We work with Prefab Logic for preconstruction services that ensure every question is answered. They lead the planning of every detail to produce a “digital twin” of the building and detailed shop drawings for the factory. All stakeholders can get a 3D immersive walkthrough of every detail of the building before manufacturing begins. They can review all specs and look at separate layers of the BIM model, from framing to MEP. Our Solutioneers in the factory can review every detail to plan ahead, procure materials, and start creating the code that will instruct factory robots how to build their portions of the job.

As the project is being prototyped then built, we welcome factory visits from stakeholders, including subtrades and onsite inspectors. By looking at the actual product and seeing how it’s being built, even those with little or no modular experience can quickly learn the ins and outs modular construction versus a traditional site build. This encourages all parties to understand and impact the process early on to ensure no surprises or guesswork onsite.

All through the construction process, both offsite and onsite, we encourage questions and ongoing real-time communication between the final site and the factory. We call our people Solutioneers for a reason. Our Solutioneers in the factory want to hear any and all concerns, and they thrive on developing solutions to any potential problems.

Autovol’s first project, Virginia Street Studios, was a prime candidate for modular due to the onsite conditions. The project is a five-story, 301-unit senior living complex with under-podium parking. In San Jose, where housing is extremely expensive and site footprints are very small, modular makes projects possible that may not be otherwise. Careful planning and coordination helped to minimize traffic disruption and noise onsite. Through great collaboration with an excellent GC, set crew, and subtrades teams, we were able to erect the building in just five weeks—even with work curfews limiting how many modules we could erect per day.

Click out to our just-posted video to see some great onsite footage and interviews at Virginia Street Studios.

Joe Sievers has worked in virtually every phase of modular construction for more than two decades. At Autovol, he leads the onsite services of each project—coordinating between the factory, developer, architect, general contractor, and various subtrade contractors onsite.